A high-concept debut that needs much tighter stitching.

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A DRESS FOR THE WICKED

Victorian-esque Project Runway complete with absurd competitions and bonus instalove.

In Britannia Secunda, fashion is everything: The country’s livelihood depends on the farmers who produce the raw materials, the factories that create the fabric, and the designers from the Fashion House. Fashion is also a bone of contention between the crown and the Reformists Party, whose members think it has become too elitist. Country girl Emmy Watkins, whose semidisgraced single mother runs a pub, is a born designer who loves fashion, so when it is announced that the Fashion House Interview will be open to a contestant from a rural area, she is determined to try out. The worldbuilding ranges from sloppy (cashmere from sheep?) to contrived (in a fashion-obsessed kingdom with a steady stream of accomplished designers churned out of the interviews, no other design houses exist, and Emmy is the first person to truly innovate). The girls competing in the interview lack substance (Ky is half Japanese and half white, making her stand out in this very white world; Alice is rich and mean; Kitty is rich and kind; Cordelia is unusual for wearing trousers) while Emmy is pure trope (plucky, innately talented, sharp enough to see that fashion is corrupt) and falls for the first pretty boy she meets. Props for lots of ridiculous fashion that seems insane enough to be couture, but that’s about all that works.

A high-concept debut that needs much tighter stitching. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-285733-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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